Over the decades, the Finnish National Ballet has always aimed to bring ballet closer to the people, beyond the walls of the Opera House. To prompt new audiences to discover the genre, productions have been created specifically for children, and school classes have been invited to watch dress rehearsals.
Performances for schoolchildren
Endeavours to get young people to watch opera and ballet started in the 1950s with finance director Alfons Almi, who began to organise dedicated performances for schoolchildren. Today the final dress rehearsals are open to school classes and other special groups who have the opportunity to see nearly finished productions close to the premiere. A school trip to the Opera House is a memory many young people cherish for decades.
In its 90th anniversary year in 2012, the Finnish National Ballet collaborated on a project with the Swedish Cultural Foundation, during which more than 4000 Swedish-speaking elementary school students from all around Finland came to watch a ballet performance at the Opera House. 2017 saw the start of the extensive Taidetestaajat (“Art testers”) project with the Finnish Cultural Foundation and Swedish Cultural Foundation to give every 8th grader in Finland the chance to visit a cultural event. The Finnish National Ballet has been one of the main partners of the project, which has enabled thousands of schoolchildren to see an opera or ballet performance.
Ballet has also been taken to schools and institutions from the 1960s onwards. In 1969 Almi kicked off the Ulos talosta (”Out of the house”) project, which sent dancers to workplaces and various other institutions. The Tutustu balettiin (”Discover ballet”) events showcased ballet at schools from 1974 to the 1980s. Audience outreach work with schools was expanded in the 2010s with a wide variety of projects. The Ballet energy for boys events introduced 1st graders in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area to ballet as both a performance and a form of exercise, with the aim to get boys to study ballet too. The So You Think You Can Muuv? dance workshops are targeted at 5th to 9th graders and promote sports as a hobby. Dance workshops have been organised in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and many other locations around Finland.
Ballet performances on large arenas
Ever since the summer tours of the 1950s, the ballet company has toured local theatres and community halls around Finland. Visits to major arenas with vast audience capacity started during Doris Laine’s tenure in 1989 when Carmina Burana and Les Noces were performed at the Messukeskus Expo and Convention Centre in Helsinki. The unique event with dancers, orchestra, choir, pianists and opera soloists was seen by an audience of nearly 2500, which was a huge number compared to performances at the old Opera House and particularly impressive as the date coincided with many other sports and entertainment events.
The auditorium of the new Opera House seated 1300, but Kenneth Greve wanted to take ballet to even larger and more easily accessible arenas. A huge show was organised at the Hartwall Arena in 2013, and Ballet All Stars also performed at the Helsinki Ice Hall and Oulu Hall in 2015.
Free outdoor performances were extremely popular
Large free outdoor events have drawn people to watch ballet for decades in Helsinki and elsewhere in Finland. Before the completion of the new Opera House, Artistic Director Jorma Uotinen organised a huge event outside the Parliament House. Approximately 20000 people flocked to see Uotinen’s Ballet Pathétique and the complementary programme. After the move to the new Opera House, the co-performances of the Finnish National Opera and Ballet by the Töölönlahti bay have become a favourite attraction of the yearly Night of the Arts in August. They have drawn huge crowds into the darkening autumn nights to see the highlights of the upcoming opera and ballet season.
During Kenneth Greve’s tenure, outdoor performances were taken beyond Töölönlahti bay to central Helsinki and major regional towns. The end of the spring season was celebrated in Helsinki with a performance to a thousand-strong audience on the Narinkka square in 2009 and 2010, on the Senate Square in 2012 and the Citizens’ Square in 2014. The summer tour performances of the 2010s were free of charge, taking place on the squares of major regional towns from 2011 to 2017. Dancers of the Finnish National Ballet also participated in Marimekko fashion shows in the Esplanade Park and the opening ceremony of the Christmas season on Aleksanterinkatu.
Text JUSSI ILTANEN
Photos THE ARCHIVES OF THE FINNISH NATIONAL OPERA AND BALLET (for example Mirka Kleemola, Sakari Viika, Kari Hakli)
Juhani Koivisto: Suurten tunteiden talo (WSOY 2011)
Laakkonen et. al. (edit.): Se alkoi joutsenesta. Sata vuotta arkea ja unelmia Kansallisbaletissa (Karisto 2021)
The archives of the Finnish National Opera and Ballet